Sippican Cottage

old barn door


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Get the Stick! Good Boy

So, during yesterday’s side porch extravaganza, I’m sure a couple of readers said to themselves, “Oh, that Sippican. He’s putting in perforated drainage pipe just to move a little rainwater five feet further from the house. That Sippican! Overkill is his middle name.”

Well, my middle name is actually @#$%ing, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s examine the facts, your honor, and see if this overkill is required. That first photo in today’s diatribe is the shed that’s tacked on the side of my basement basement, the one we just lifted 6 or 8 inches the other day. The opposite end of that shed is where the perforated pipe drain is buried. It shows the rough and ready doors the last occupants left for us. It had an old-fashioned hasp on it. It was meant for a padlock, but it had a twig stuck in it instead.

I used to grow peevish with my kids from time to time (alright, daily), and would say, “Where’s the shed stick? How could you lose the shed stick?” It almost never occurred to me to get another shed stick. I figured once I started breaking off a repacement twig from the surrounding flora, there’s be no end to it. Maine would be as flat as a parking lot in no time. But in the spirit of familial amity, and because divorce lawyers cost more than lumber, I decided to replace the door and do without the stick forevermore.

Let’s open those doors in the spring, and see what’s inside.

Hey look. Four or five inches of solid ice.

Well, I can see we won’t be mowing the lawn, or sitting down, until Memorial Day at the earliest. That’s why you take care of drainage when you get a chance, people. We moved that rainwater five feet, and it’s as dry as a bone in that shed now. But the shed needed a real, architecturally appropriate, twigless door. Let’s make one.

Now, you must know me by now, and you know I’m not going to spend money I don’t have. I cast a longing eye towards the fragment of one of the old barn doors we’d scavenged from the dump pile. That’s the back side of it. The front is beaded. The edges of the boards are tongue and groove, which makes for a great door. It keeps out rain and wind and skeeters and such naturally. I think the wood is chestnut. It’s basically an extinct species now, destroyed by a blight. They used to make darn near everything out of chestnut. Phone poles, horse stalls, furniture, fence rails, and anything else that needed cheap timber. It looks like the love child of oak and pine. It’s light, strong, easy to work, and doesn’t rot. Great stuff. Like most great stuff, there isn’t any anymore.

The door needs a plan. Let’s make one. Please remove yourself from the area if you’re skittish. I’ll be using a pencil and paper to make a plan. While not technically illegal yet, no one seems to be able to do it anymore. It’s computing or bust nowadays. I know how to do a little CAD drawing. I hate it, and it’s slower, and I can’t be bothered to wait five minutes for the tubes in the old Dell to warm up and ask me if I’d rather update Windows again now, or almost now. Scratch away and be done with it, I say. Here’s the plan:

Nobody pays attention to them anymore, but doors are supposed to have proportions. The stiles (upright members), the rails (cross members), and the panels need to look right and be strong enough to do their jobs. Since everything is stamped out of plastic or sawdust and glue these days, they hurl the rules down and stomp on them and make swollen misshapen everythings. But the rules were helpful back in the day. Lumber still comes mostly in dimensions that are useful for following the rules of proportions.

This door is a good example. We’ll make the frame out of leftover pieces of framing lumber. The bottom rail from a 2 x 8, the top rail from a 2 x 12, and the intermediate rail and stiles from 2 x 6s. Where do we locate the middle rail? We use another useful rule of thumb, the Golden Ratio. The easiest way to use it is to simply multiply the short dimension by 1.6 to get the long dimension. We know the bottom panels are @15-3/4″ wide, because that’s what’s left over from the stiles, divided in half. Multiply by 1.6, and you get something close to 24 inches. The arch at the top is a little more complicated. It’s a curve sprung from a point located near the center of the door. There are lots of ways to lay out arches, especially pointed arches, using just a compass. I probably just futzed it by springing a line that left 5 -1/2″ at the top center, and the full 11 – 1/4″ where the top rail meets the side stiles. This is how you find the spot on the door plan to plant the peg of the compass to draw the arc. I drew in some chamfers (the shaded areas surrounding the panels). I notice that spell check doesn’t know what the hell to make of the word “chamfer.” It’s lonesome knowing more words than the dictionary.

I know from experience that drawing any curved line with CAD programs is a more vexing problem than a sober prom date with a Navy Seal father. That’s why we still scratch away at the cottage. Saves time. And we ignore the spell check.

So we cut the top, middle, and bottom rails on the chop saw with a stop block on the fence, so they all turn out the exact same length. Forget measure twice, cut once. Measure once, put a stop block on the fence, and cut three times, and you’re done. If they’re wrong, they’re all the same kind of wrong, dammit. We  marked out the curve by banging a nail in the workbench, tying a string to it, tying a pencil to the other end, and pulling it around the curve. The string has to be the correct length, of course. The plan is on graph paper for a reason. You can just measure off it, three inches to a block. We cut the curve on the band saw.

Here’s the real hard part if you’re following along at home. You’re going to have to shoplift a domino joiner. No sane person would buy one, they cost like a grand now. It cost about half that when I bought mine. So don’t get caught, and steal some of those beech tenons while you’re at it, like the one you see in the picture. The tool makes a perfect mortise, and the beech domino is the perfect tenon for the mortise. Of course you can always cut the mortises and tenons with chisels and gent’s saws if you’re planning on living to be 10,000 years old, but for normal people, it’s shoplifting or nothing.

So every place the stiles meet the rails, you can see two tick marks where the domino tenons will go. We use the largest tenons we have, and glue them with exterior glue. It’s plenty strong. We’ll tighten up the joints with bar clamps and then back up the tenons with star point screws driven at an angle. The screws aren’t really necessary, but you can take the door out of the clamps right away if you use them. Screws make great clamps.

The speed square is placed in the corner to make sure the door is square. You can also check the door by pulling tape measures from corners to opposite diagonal corners, and comparing the two measurements. It’s a waste of time in this case. The door basically can’t go together without going together squarely.

[We’ll get back to making this door tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who reads, comments, buys my book, or hits the tip jar. It is greatly appreciated]

2 Responses

  1. Hi Anne- Thanks for reading and commenting. The pipe is buried maybe a foot deep. It’s solid, perforated plastic pipe, with gravel under it and regular landscape fabric draped over it.

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